Mississippi Sued Over 'Hellish' Conditions in For-Profit Prison

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Mississippi Sued Over 'Hellish' Conditions in For-Profit Prison

Lawyers say incarcerated men with severe psychiatric disorders face medical neglect, insufficient food, solitary confinement, and abuse at "special needs" facility

At the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, sometimes incarcerated people are forced to resort to starting fires to get attention from negligent staff. (Photo: ACLU)

Denial of food and medical care. Cells and floors soiled with blood, urine, and feces. Excessive force by prison guards. Weeks, months, and years in solitary confinement.

These are the conditions found at a "special needs" for-profit prison, the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, which is tasked by the state's department of corrections with incarcerating 1,200 people, approximately 1,000 of whom have severe psychiatric disorders, according to a legal motion filed Friday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, Law Office of Elizabeth Alexander, and Covington & Burling LLP filed the motion in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, asking the federal court to approve a 2013 complaint as a class-action suit against the state officials in charge of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF). They say they hope this move will help protect all of the people who are subject to the facility's "inhumane" and "torturous" conditions.

Formerly run by private prison company GEO Group, the EMCF is now operated by the Utah-based Management and Training Corporation, with its health services provided by the Mississippi-based  Health Assurance, LLC. Both companies won lucrative contracts with the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

The documents filed Friday—including a motion, brief, and numerous expert opinions—detail grisly abuses within the prison's walls.

A man in his twenties went blind in one eye after being denied his glaucoma medication. Because he was already blind in his other eye, the denial of medicine left him completely without vision.

A 31-year-old man suffering from a brain tumor was denied a CT scan and neurosurgeon referral.

The facility is plagued by numerous suicide attempts, some of them successful.

With no redress for abuse or medical neglect, "prisoners in the segregation units conclude that they have no meaningful avenue to seek urgent medical care or attention to other basic human needs other than to act out by setting fires, flooding their cells, cutting themselves, or refusing to remove their arms from the food slots in their cells doors," reads the brief filed Friday.

Willie Hughes, who was formerly incarcerated at EMCF, told the ACLU that during his time at the facility he was moved to despair. "I gave up," he said. "One of them gangsters was going to kill me or one of them guards was going to kill me."

Even a prison shift captain admitted to the ACLU that the cell rows, filled with prisoners engaging in self-mutilation and harm, look like a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the famous Ken Kesey novel about prisoners in a mental health ward.

"Taken as a whole, the conditions in solitary confinement at EMCF are the worst I have witnessed in my 40 years as a forensic psychiatrist investigating jail and prison conditions," Dr. Terry A. Kupers wrote in a report on the prison's mental health care system. "These conditions can accurately be described as torture according to international human rights agreements and standards. They press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate."

Referring to the EMCF as a "cesspool," the ACLU says Mississippi state officials have for years known of the prison's horrific conditions for years yet have done nothing to address them.

"The hellish conditions that have been allowed to fester inside this for-profit prison should shock anyone with any sense of decency," said Jody Owens, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Mississippi office. "It's sickening that private companies earn profits through the misery and suffering of mentally ill prisoners who can't get their most fundamental human needs met. The people of Mississippi should be outraged."

Abuse is not limited to Mississippi's private prisons, however. Friday's motion follows a lawsuit filed by the ACLU which charges that men held in Mississippi's Scott County Detention Center, a public jail, have languished for long periods in jail without charge or trial.

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